Pending Home Sales Inch Back 0.3% in December

Contract signings reach record high for the month of December

Key Highlights

  • Pending home sales slipped 0.3% in December from the prior month, the fourth consecutive month of decline after an unseasonal surge in August. Total pending sales decreased due primarily to fewer contract signings in the Midwest region. 
  • Nationally, contract signings rose 21.4% from December 2019, with all regions reaching double-digit year-over-year increases.
  • The Pending Home Sales Index hit 125.5, an all-time high for December.

WASHINGTON (January 29, 2021) – Despite dropping slightly in the last month of 2020, the latest pending home sales registered as the highest ever recorded in the month of December, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The decrease marks the fourth consecutive month of month-over-month declines. While contract transitions fell in one of the four major U.S. regions, activity climbed or remained flat in the three other areas. Compared to a year ago, all four regions witnessed double-digit gains in pending home sales transactions.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI),* www.nar.realtor/pending-home-sales, a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, waned 0.3% to 125.5 in December. Year-over-year, contract signings jumped 21.4%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.

"Pending home sales contracts have dipped during recent months, but I would attribute that to having too few homes for sale," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "There is a high demand for housing and a great number of would-be buyers, and therefore sales should rise with more new listings."

"This elevated demand without a significant boost in supply has caused home prices to increase and we can expect further upward pressure on prices for the foreseeable future," Yun said.

Yun continues to project that 2021 will bring about strong economic growth, supported by low mortgage rates and fiscal stimulus, which in turn will bolster existing-home sales.

Yun added that, with rates to remain low, existing-homes sales are likely to reach 6.49 million, which would be a 15% increase from 5.64 million in 2020. "There will also be slower home price appreciation, likely 6.6%, as increased confidence from homebuilders will ultimately lead to an increase in housing starts."

December Pending Home Sales Regional Breakdown

The Northeast PHSI rose 3.1% to 112.0 in December, a 22.1% increase from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 3.6% to 111.7 last month, up 13.9% from December 2019.

Pending home sales in the South increased 0.1% to an index of 150.6 in December, up 26.6% from December 2019. The index in the West was unchanged in December, remaining at 111.3, which is up 18.9% from a year ago.

Realtor.com®'s Housing Market Recovery Index, which reveals metro areas where the market has recovered or even exceeded prior trends, showed Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Denver, Colo.; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Boston, Mass., had enjoyed the most significant recovery as of January 16.

The National Association of Realtors® is America's largest trade association, representing more than 1.4 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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*The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.

The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20% of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.

An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined. By coincidence, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell within the range of 5.0 to 5.5 million, which is considered normal for the current U.S. population.

NOTE: Existing-Home Sales for January will be reported February 19. The next Pending Home Sales Index will be February 25; all release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.

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